Every Christmas the Wild Ireland animal sanctuary in Donegal is transformed into the Wild Arctic Experience, where foxes, snowy owls and arctic wolves are around to set a wintery scene. And it’s not just the animals – the grounds are illuminated with twinkling lights and installations, with forest trails leading between the enclosures. Kids can go to visit Santa and his elves in the festive wooden hut before getting a hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and marshmallows in the café. Wild Arctic is running from December 1-23.
Christmas is taken seriously at Westport House in Co Mayo, with Winter Wonderland running from November 19 – December 23. Both the 18th century house and the grounds are decorated for the season, with real snow falling and Christmas trees dotted around the estate. You can visit Santa in his grotto before taking in the grounds on the Winter Wonderland Express Train. Pop into the Georgian house to see the epic Christmas decorations and grab a family photo.
There’s a historical vibe to the celebrations at Strokestown Park House in Co Roscommon. At the Victorian Christmas Experience, you’ll be guided by a mischievous elf on an adventure around the Palladian mansion for storytelling and crafts as well as a chance to meet Santa and Mrs Claus. Afterwards you can head out into the woods with a hot chocolate where the festivities continue.
At the Arigna Mining Experience in Co Roscommon, Santa Underground is held on the weekends of December 10-11 and 17-18. There’s a performance from Custard Pie Puppets, a show with Santa’s helpers and a singalong with Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman.
Held at the Galway Racecourse, the Elf Town Santa Experience is a fun and unique Christmas celebration. The fun starts long before you arrive with an official invite from Santa arriving by reindeer post once you’ve booked, complete with a golden ticket and a map of Elf Town. The two hour experience weaves between three buildings, with plenty of surprises along the way, culminating with a visit to Santa. It’s on from November 25 to December 23.
In a new take on The Nutcracker holiday tradition, Nutcracker Sweeties is the quintessential Christmas show. Performed by Ballet Ireland, the tale takes you on a journey that starts at the Christmas windows of a famous Dublin department store before the magic of Nutcracker is brought to life. The show is touring the country this season, with stops in Dublin on December 9 and 10 at the Draiocht Blanchardstown and in Galway on December 13 and 14 in the Town Hall Theatre.
Board the Polar Express as it passes through the Model Railway Village in Clonakilty. Powered by Christmas songs, the Choo Choo Road Train is a festive journey to remember where you’ll meet the elves, do some crafts and visit Santa in a train carriage. You’ll finish up at the Village of Lights to see a miniature West Cork all lit up.
Set among the trees on the Fota House estate, the Alpine Skate Trail brings a little taste of the European mountains to Cork. There’s a festive atmosphere to the whole set up with sparkling lights and decorations all around the trail. It’s suitable for kids aged three and up, and there are cute penguin skate aids to help them along. The trail is open from November 4 and runs until January 29.
This year is the tenth Winterval, which sees the city of Waterford transformed in the run up to Christmas. As well as the continental market with sweet treats sold in the quaint wooden huts, there’s plenty for kids to do, from free puppet shows to craft workshops. There’s a vintage Ferris wheel at Arundel Square and an ice rink on the quayside, as well as an elaborate Santa village, where you can deliver your letter to the big man with Elf Post. Winterval is running from November 18 to December 23.
In Kilkenny, it isn’t Christmas until the kids have seen Santa arrive into the city by boat and bike. The Santa City Cycle on November 26 marks the start of Yulefest Kilkenny, with the big man himself making his way through town. For the rest of the festival, there are festive movies screened with Kilkenny Castle as the backdrop, wreath making workshops and a Christmas market where you can get fresh crêpes and hot chocolate to keep you nice and toasty. Yulefest is running from November 25 to Christmas Eve.
Held on Wexford Quay, Winterland is home to many a festive treat, from reindeer snacks in Mrs Claus’ kitchen to ice skating at Wexford on Ice. The big attraction is a trip to see Santa at the North Pole where you can get a photo in his magical sleigh. The whole experience wraps up with a festive movie screened in the North Star Cinema. It’s running from December 1-23.
On the grounds of Belvedere House Gardens and Park in Co Westmeath, the forests will be illuminated with enchanting, twinkling lights for the annual Land of Light. The trees, the buildings and the night sky are all lit up in a magical display that runs from November 18 to December 27. On December 4, there’s a special Sensory Evening with reduced noise, quieter music and toned down lighting, which is designed for guests with autism and sensory processing disorders.
Every year, Rathwood Home and Garden World in Co Carlow is taken over with all things Christmas when Santa Visits the Big Top. The whole family can hop aboard the Rathwood Express to journey through the enchanted forest, ending at the Big Top for an all singing, all dancing show from Santa, Mrs Claus and the elves. Afterwards, each child gets a gift from Santa in the Toy Factory. The show is created by Spotlight Productions (the team behind the Late Late Toy Show) and is running every weekend from November 20 to December 24.
There’s a brand new Santa Express train at this year’s Wicklow Christmas Market, which takes kids through the Tunnel of Lights on their way to the North Pole. The elves put on a show and Mrs Claus reads a story, before it’s time to visit Santa himself. Last year’s Eco Ice Rink has expanded in size, so you can skate on an environmentally friendly ice that feels like the real deal. The market itself is packed with stalls selling food, ornaments and toys, and there’s a fun fair with carnival rides, too. The market runs from November 19 to December 18.
The fun starts before you even leave the car at Santa’s House Express, with a drive-through adventure that leads you through Elf Town, Candy Cane Lane and Santa’s Toy Factory. Once there, you can park up and visit the Jolly Old Elf before a trip to the funfair in the Manor House Gardens. (Though it might be a good idea to save the hot chocolate and treats until after the rides.) It’s running at Palmerstown House Estate in Co Kildare, on select dates between November 25 and December 23.
The Loughcrew Lights event sees the grounds of Loughcrew Estate in Co Meath taken over by a light display, with each year bringing a different theme into the mix. This year, the installations are based around Celtic myths and legends, with the stories of Ireland’s heroes and villains told through lights, soundscapes and projections. It’s on between November 11 and January 3.
Head to the grounds of Malahide Castle this Christmas for en evening treat. Spread around the woodland is Wonderlights, a spectacular walking trail that leads you past illuminated creatures and light displays. This year’s theme is the Night Sky, culminating in a recreation of the Northern Lights and a shower of shooting stars. It runs from November 4 to January 3.
Every weekend from November 12 to December 23, Santa pays a visit to Dublin Zoo, so you can combine a festive treat with a trip to see all of the animals. If your kids are a little older they may prefer Wild Lights, an evening event that sees glowing animal lanterns dotted between the enclosures.